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EU Structural Funds: Least Developed Regions — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 3:23 pm, 26th June 2019

I thank my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield for introducing the debate so well. Colleagues representing Cornwall constituencies have made a good case for the argument that the far south-west does not get its fair share, and they are right—we do not. We have not had our fair share under the Governments of the past nine years, and we risk getting an even worse deal if we do not get post-Brexit funding right. I worry that we are getting it wrong politically in Parliament at the moment, and that the Government are getting it wrong through their lack of planning for what would replace EU funding for the region after no deal.

Whatever our views on the European Union, and whether we voted remain or leave in the south-west, there is no doubt that the EU funded us fairly, and Westminster continues to fund us at below-average levels. That is despite the fact that Cornwall is one of the poorest counties in the entire country, and despite huge levels of deprivation in Plymouth, with below-average spend across the county. When we get lumped together as part of the south it annoys me, because some of the poorest communities in the country are in Plymouth and Cornwall. Our peripherality has made things harder, but that is not recognised by Westminster in the funding formulas, although the European Union has recognised it in the way it has distributed funding. One need only look at towns funding to see that in action. Out of a £1 billion fund there was only £30 million for the entire south-west region. It was supposed to be allocated on the basis of need, and that episode has not built confidence in the way any future Government will allocate funding after Brexit.

There is an important rationale for funding based on a clear distinction, so that wherever someone lives—in Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall, or anywhere else in the country—they should be funded fairly and given the same opportunities as people have anywhere else. That is what must happen. I worry because there is the risk of no deal on 31 October and the new system is not in place. People do not know what will happen to the funding streams that they currently enjoy. They do not know what forms they will have to fill in, what deadlines they will have to meet, or what happens to existing funded programmes. I worry that that is causing concern.

I remember Boris Johnson, now a Tory leadership contender, starting the referendum campaign in Cornwall —in the constituency, I believe, of the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth—and grasping a pasty. I think he called it the pasty of independence. We now know that the geographical indicators that protect Cornish pasties might not be there with a no-deal Brexit. In fact, it looks as if they probably will not. So we need to make sure in the far south-west that we protect not only our funding streams, but our fantastic products. That is really at the heart of the issue. We need to make sure that whatever system replaces the European funding if Brexit does happen, distribution will be fair. I worry at the moment that the poor deal for the south-west will continue unless there is a consultation that clearly brings about change, to give such regions a better deal.